Shuster’s Enhancing of Social Media Access should be a Powerful First Amendment Tool for Aviation

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ARTICLE: House Transportation Committee Is Reinventing Itself: Going Digital to Get Things Done
Bill Shuster

The aptly named House of Representatives fulfills the political science function of being closest to the populace. Modern lobbying involves communicating between the populace and the legislative body. Generally that transfer of information focuses on the petitioning FROM the constituents TO the elected, the articulating of very specific facts and arguments on issues pending before Congress.

As noted by the National Journal, the Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and his staff have “reinvented” how they will do business. They have transformed the committee’s sleepy website and it now incorporates state-of-the-art (for Congress, old for the private sector) elements:

Michael Marinaccio, the committee’s first-ever digital director, said; “We want to have more people involved, people who haven’t been involved before…We want everybody to know that they should be involved, even the random guy on Twitter.… We want to make sure when somebody tweets at Bill, they get a response that’s a human response.” That defines a new level of electronic democracy; if one believes that the Chairman (rather than Mr. Marinaccio or one of his staff) is at the other end of that Twitter account! Not only the good people of Pennsylvania’s 9th District, but also anyone with an issue with regard to highways, aviation, transit, railroads, public buildings, pipelines, economic development, the waterways and the Coast Guard can tweet the man who controls the agenda for each of these issues.

That flow allows citizens to more easily communicate to the Hill (at least this Committee). What is equally important/impressive is what one can learn about the Members, their concerns, the hearings and their vocabulary. The new, improved website allows anyone to sit at her/his computer to hear what transpires at these important legislative events. The Members’ questions and their dialogues with witnesses are great sources of information about

  • what these elected officials know,
  • what they do not understand,
  • what their priorities are,
  • what they “tell” the witnesses should be done and when federal officials are at the end of these “instructions” that might be an important message and
  • what words and phrases the Members use to articulate their positions or to ask questions.

It is that last bullet point that may be most instructive in the lobbying process. There are key words, jargon that the Members use in discussing policy issues. The particular phrases or paragraphs carry particular meaning to the Member. Some of the expressions come from the Democratic or Republican leadership or from the Representative’s personal polling or from an editorial/academic paper caught the official’s attention. Many of these word choices or paragraphs are a form of shorthand and are more likely to connect with the Member’s attention. When a constituent identifies what that vocabulary is, his/her message has greater impact.

It seems simple, but when you have only a few minutes to speak to a Member or if the likely limit of his/her reading tolerance is a page or two, JUDICIOUS WORD CHOICE MATTERS. Taking the time to listen carefully to the hearings and to review carefully the variety of documents available on the website will improve your ability to petition the government. More effective exercise of the First Amendment Rights really involves both speaking and listening.

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